Sex-Abuse Suit against Order Can Proceed
By Bruce Vielmetti
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
January 11, 2012
A childhood sexual abuse lawsuit against a Hales Corners-based religious order can go forward, the Supreme Court of South Dakota has ruled.
The Priests of the Sacred Heart runs a mission school for American Indians in South Dakota. Eight former students sued the order in 2010, alleging they had been molested while they were minors attending the school in the 1970s.
The order contended the civil lawsuit was improperly served and sought to have the case dismissed. A trial judge denied the motion, and the order appealed. Last month, South Dakota's high court agreed that while the plaintiffs initially served someone who did not meet the statutory requirement for service on a business, they did successfully serve a director of the order within a 60-day extension.
The first summons was served on the executive director of child services at the school, St. Joseph's Indian Mission School, but he was not a registered agent of the order. A month later, in July 2010, the plaintiffs served Father Stephen Huffstetter, the president of Priests of the Sacred Heart and one of its directors.
The opinion notes that between those two events, an amendment to South Dakota's statute of limitations took effect, essentially barring anyone 40 or older from recovering damages from anyone but the actual perpetrator of sexual abuse. But the latter service was deemed to have related back to the initial service in June, before the change took effect.
Among the individual defendants named in the South Dakota suit are Father William Pitcavage and Father Thomas Lind. Both were removed from religious ministry after the sexual assault claims, but a spokeswoman for the order said in August both had been cleared by a religious order review board in February.
Members of the board then later clarified that it had not cleared the two priests but only determined that there was insufficient information to make a recommendation.
Pitcavage, who was elected vice provincial in 2010, had served briefly in Wisconsin as a deacon at St. James Catholic Church in Menomonee Falls in 1976 and 1977 and as a chaplain at St. Luke's Hospital in 1980-'81. He lives at the order's retirement home in Franklin.
Lind, now retired and living in Mississippi, studied at Sacred Heart Seminary in Franklin from 1951 to 1960 but never served in ministry in Wisconsin.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, called on the Priests of the Sacred Heart to try to notify anyone who may have been harmed by a member of the order and tell them they can file a claim for restitution before the Feb. 1 deadline in the bankruptcy of the Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese.
Sacred Heart spokeswoman Mary Gorski said Tuesday the order is not part of the bankruptcy.
"We will continue to cooperate fully with authorities and pray for a just resolution for all parties," Gorski said.
Gorski had said earlier that neither Pitcavage nor Lind had any prior allegations filed against them.